Luxury or nothing: the “democratization” of luxury fashion

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“If you want to abolish greed, you must abolish its mother, luxury. “- Cicero

Luxury, in the lexicon of the twenty-first century, has become an empty word – a shorthand that means elevating something with the promise of superiority and exclusivity. Luxury apartments (a mostly cookie-cutter modernist high-rise hellish landscape). Luxury clothing (your designer logo, nothing matters). “Luxury”Has become one of the biggest weapons in a brand’s arsenal for positioning its products, all in its relentless quest to sell a piece of that“ dream ”to the middle class.

The modern fashion industry has become a player in this game of deception, while retaining its latest, most authentic form of luxury – haute couture (in French, of course, for “haute couture”). Historically, luxury fashion was aimed at the rarefied community who could afford the pleasure of handcrafted clothing from the finest materials, meticulously crafted to the wearer’s exact measurements – for them and only them. The movement represented the highest example of craftsmanship and creativity, the source of all seasonal fashion trends reflected in the silhouettes, colors, tailoring and choice of textiles – the spirit of the times. The suspects included the royal courts of Europe, American railroad tycoons and oil barons, and foreign dignitaries who could travel to Paris.

From its founding in 1858 by the Englishman Charles Frederick Worth (known as “the father of haute couture”), until the middle of the twentieth century when great couturiers such as Gabrielle Chanel, Christian Dior and Cristóbal Balenciaga took up l Importantly, haute couture was an intimate affair. Customers were invited to the hushed lounges of the couturier’s studio, where they would be presented with the spring collections in January and the fall collections in July, as models strolled the hallways with numbered cards, indicating potential looks that customers could note on order.

Beginning of the Dior Bar jacket (The “New Look”) in the cozy lounges of 30 Avenue Montaigne by M. Dior – Christian Dior Haute Couture Spring-Summer 1947.

This sacred ritual is in striking juxtaposition with the way “haute couture” and luxury fashion are viewed today, all thanks to savvy luxury conglomerates. Over the past 40 years, conglomerates have taken over luxury brands by handfuls, buying out the descendants of their founders. The biggest players: Bernard Arnault, Chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), and François-Henri Pinault, Chairman and CEO of Kering.

These luxury titans recognized the unprecedented purchasing power of the middle market, which now showed a willingness to buy into luxury fashion frivolities. First came ready-to-wear (RTW), watered down versions of the couture of the season in less laborious execution and less elaborate quality. Then came the rationalization of more accessible products such as perfumes, handbags, shoes and accessories, all in the name of the democratization of luxury.

The greatest example of a mass-producing luxury pioneer is Louis Vuitton, who started out as a maker of artisanal luggage in 1854 stocking the fabulous garments of the haute couture clientele. As each Vuitton generation passed, each added bags covered with the ubiquitous LV monogram and interlocking Japanese flower. After Arnault (nicknamed “the cashmere wolf”) bought Vuitton in 1989 (marrying LV with MH), he appointed designer Marc Jacobs as RTW’s creative director, which led to collaborations of obscenely successful artists with Yayoi Kusama and Takashi Murakami. Today, Vuitton is the jewel in Arnault’s collection of seventy luxury brands and the world’s most valuable luxury brand, worth US $ 47.2 billion. During his tenure at Vuitton, Jacobs said “[if the clothes sell], if Mr. Arnault is happy, I am happy.

Polaroids of Marc Jacobs Vuitton nurses dressed in monogrammed surgical masks and transparent uniforms – Louis Vuitton Spring-Summer 2008 RTW, in collaboration with Richard Prince.

The democratization of luxury, according to Anna Wintour, “means more people are going to have better fashion. And the more people who can have fashion, the better. Maybe Wintour’s words ring true, if she means an inclusive industry where anyone can partner in the creative expression of a brand – sartorial tribal – but at what cost?

When a luxury conglomerate owns a fashion brand, like everything it invests in, it expects immediate results. They appoint current and trendy fashion bad boys as creative directors, and if their investment in the creative director does not yield the expected return on investment, they risk the guillotine. The lifespan of creative directors, and creativity in essence, is short-lived under the guise of a corporate agenda. Worse yet, creative directors are not retained long enough for their personal and brand aesthetics to work in unison – a revolving door and an unsustainable flow of creativity, exposing both the creative director and the brand to challenges. vicious reviews. Of course, there will always be a purely commercial fashion and luxury remains prohibitive for a large part of the population. But it is only when the creativity of directors clashes with the dictates of commerce that fashion as an art form becomes considered less pure. letting practices such as haute couture and crafts fade and become ignored. In an industry where bottom line dominates, the way fashion has been so-called “democratized” has devalued craftsmanship. Typing on a logo seems like the perfect way to make a quick buck, challenging the integrity of the brand.

In addition, Arnault introduced a new luxury model: enhancing timelessness, brightening up the design and advertising like crazy. From a marketing point of view, luxury has become the sale of an art of living, a heritage of craftsmanship. The conglomerates reinforce the fact that their products are made by artisans in Italy or France, as if making leather goods, beautiful fabrics and blinding embroidery are in their genes, carrying on the legacy of the fashion houses they have. redeemed a long time ago. But while the “Made in France” or “Made in Italy” label is the hallmark, the reality is that brands are mass producing these Eurocentric claims off the manufacturing capitals of developing countries, only to tear off their label “Made in China / Romania / Mauritius” and sew “Made in France”. Of course, most would never admit it.

The middle market swallowed up the concocted “luxury dream”, especially in China, India and Russia – places where luxury was abundant under the Tang Dynasty, the Maharajas and the Czars. Now, the illusions of grandeur in a conspicuous consumer culture are widening the wealth gap; Covering oneself with European luxury, synonymous with prestige, reinvigorates the class hierarchies established by colonial histories.

Ghostly twins in a satchel skirt, scenes heavily embroidered with mythological motifs à la Neil Gaiman in a cream, metallic and gray palette reminiscent of Greek statuary – Guo Pei Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2019: “Alternate Universe”

In a fashion landscape where the supposed democratization of luxury has depreciated it, and turned its perception into an empty word at the expense of creative integrity, what form does luxury take today?

The best practitioners of luxury in fashion today are independent designers, where luxury is not just a matter of the finest materials, but an experience and connection with their wearer – reminiscent of the haute couture of ‘yesteryear. Here, independent designers can operate creatively without an underlying business program, care about craftsmanship rather than the bottom line, and shed the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ manufacturing philosophy embraced. and dominated by fashion companies. Here, wearers know where their clothes come from and the importance of not compromising any aspect of their brand’s integrity – they are the ones who keep fashion as a medium of art alive today.

“Luxury” has been overused by marketing departments to give the middle class the impression of upward mobility, capable of affording high-end products. During this time, in reality, the gap between rich and poor has widened considerably and the fortunes of conglomerates have increased. Luxury is haute couture and craftsmanship. Everything else is just very expensive.


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